Toward a Clear Identity
It was September 9, 1996, and I was flying from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Washington, D.C., to be one of the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States. As I sat in the airplane thinking about this event in which I was about to participate, many pieces of my life pushed through in my mind. One of these thoughts repeated itself. I am seventy-five years old! How does this recognition come to me at this age? Am I really deserving of it? Who am I to receive such recognition from the United States? Who am I?
I am the same person whom my aunt taught to read in the living room of our old house in Barrio Obrero before I was five years old. I am the same person who used to walk miles to high school with holes in the soles of her shoes. I am the same person who was pulled out of her first year of high school because the doctors, who tested all students in the school, found tuberculosis in her lungs. I am the same person who would go on horseback to teach in a rural school in the mountains of our island.
As I sat in the plane on my trip to Washington, D.C., enumerating my work with my community in the resolution of problems suffered by us and by others who are excluded, I concluded that I did deserve the medal and that I should feel the satisfaction of being recognized for my work while I was still alive.
The next morning in an impressive room at the White House, President Bill Clinton placed a medal over my head, and, in doing so, he praised my work with my community, with special recognition for